Jerry Davich: Man’s fundraising ride shows what’s best about America
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org July 3, 2012 10:28PM
Pete Wilson of Chesterton is undergoing a 1,600-mile, three-week, round-trip bicycle trek from Hope, Arkansas, where he biked alone to raise money for the Hope Orphanage in Uganda. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Ride to Hope
For more info or to donate money to Pete Wilson’s Ride to Hope journey, call him at 510-7431 or visit www.ridetohope.com or www.lifeblessings.org.
The public also is invited to greet Pete around 5 p.m. Wednesday at Bethel Valparaiso Church, 552 Morthland Drive, at the church’s events property on the corner of Sturdy Road and Martinal Road.
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:24AM
Pete Wilson took a much deserved break on a 102-degree day to call me from a convenience store in the middle of Missouri.
The Chesterton father of four was nearing the end of his 24-day, 1,600-mile fundraising bicycle trek to Hope, Ark., and then back to Northwest Indiana. He chose that city for a hopeful reason — to raise money to help complete the House of Hope Children’s Village in northern Uganda, an orphanage badly in need of support. And loving adults.
Not only is Wilson pedaling for such a noble and global cause, but he and his wife, Natalie, will move to that African village this fall with their four children, Mia, 7, Asher, 5, Eli, 3 and Ethan, 1. The family plans on living in a city called Gulu for at least two years to help raise the child orphans, most whose parents were murdered, some in front of their own eyes.
“They are amazing children and they touched my heart when I was there last year,” Wilson told me while choking back his emotions during my radio show.
But this column isn’t about Uganda, murderous African clans or the global orphan crisis. Not today. Not on the Fourth of July. This is about us and our country, which is seemingly more divided, polarized and on edge than I can ever recall.
Something Wilson told me confirmed my hunch that I had to write about his admirable odyssey, and I had to write about it today, on our country’s star-spangled holiday.
I asked how his fellow Americans have treated him during his multistate trek through America’s heartland. He said “99 percent” of the people he met along the way have treated him wonderfully, even though they were all strangers just a minute earlier.
“It’s been humbling yet inspiring,” he told me sincerely.
For instance, there was the man who overheard his story and insisted on buying him lunch. There was the female pastor who bought him dinner. And there were so many more strangers who opened their homess and hearts to him along the way.
“It is so fun to hear everyone’s story and how God is using them,” Wilson wrote one night in his online blog before falling asleep in his tent on a church’s property.
Natalie, from the couple’s home, told me, “We really felt God inviting us to help in Uganda where they are still recovering from the 20-year tyranny of the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony.”
“The Ugandan people are simply amazing, grateful, joyful people despite all they have been through and all they may lack materially,” she said. “Such amazing faith, joy, resilience and grace in the midst of such horrible tragedy.”
Pete and Natalie both agreed that they have always had a soft spot and fascination for Africa, mankind’s homeland. (Uganda is about the size of Oregon, and it houses roughly 2.5 million of the roughly 163 million orphans in the world.)
Our gated community
Three years ago, Natalie traveled to that war-torn country to help her friend adopt a baby son. While there, she also served at an orphanage.
“The experience was life changing,” she recalled. “I fell completely in love with the country, its people and its children. Pete went on a five-country African tour last year and he immediately fell in love with Uganda as well.”
“How could we not accept God’s offer to love these precious children of his?” she asked. “We are blessed, humbled and excited for all that this experience has in store for us.”
What an attitude, huh?
So many of us know all too well about such global crises, and most of us cough up some cash to help, if anything to ease our conscience. But it’s Americans such as Pete and Natalie who make me proud to be, well, an American.
I view our country as a gated community in the global scheme of things, and one most of us would prefer to keep that way, similar to gated communities in most every American city. We want to keep “us” inside and “them” outside, depending on our personal prejudices, territorial outlook and moral righteousness.
But not the Wilsons, who feel so compelled to help those less fortunate outside our gated community they are leaving it to do so.
Pete said he has an adopted brother from Laos, which may have played a role in his global outlook. Or maybe it’s the Favor of God Ministries in Uganda that played a factor. Or possibly his faith which, like all faiths, should transcend geographical borders.
Regardless, when he made the decision to move to Uganda he figured a fundraising bike ride would help his cause. His goal is to raise $80,000 and so far he has reached nearly $20,000.
The money will not only go toward completing the orphanage’s three buildings, outdoor kitchen and septic system, but also help to offset traveling expenses for his family.
Since he left this region on June 10, Pete has ridden an average of 80 miles each day, often through brutal heat and gusty winds. And he’s doing it on an older model mountain bike, the same one he rode to the Atlantic Ocean after he graduated from college.
“You’re riding THAT across the country?” he is often asked by biking enthusiasts.
“But it’s been a blast,” he told me Monday from somewhere in Illinois.
Earlier on his trek, on his daily blog he wrote: “Day 17: I had a great conversation today with a gas station attendant. He was so curious about what I was doing, why I was doing it, etc. As I was packing up, he came out from behind the counter and gave me my money back for the drink I had purchased. What a blessing!”
And, “Day 19: Into Missouri: I got up early to try to beat the heat, so I was on the road by 7 a.m. Riding in the morning is so peaceful. I feel like I get to watch the world wake up.”
And, “I think my rest day on Saturday will be writing about the many blessings that keep happening each day. God is so good.”
God’s plan is for Pete to return here today, just in time for Fourth of July fireworks at his church and to reunite with his family, friends and supporters. You are welcome, too.
“It is such a beautiful story,” said Pete’s mother, Sue Wilson.
I agree, and maybe such inspiring stories — of Americans’ kindness and generosity to each other — can illustrate there is, well, hope after all for this red, white and blue country.